Seeing

When Emily was born, I bought a video camera.

(We really couldn’t afford it at the time but I told myself that we couldn’t afford to miss a thing as Emily said her first words, took her first steps, played with her first friends . . . but I’m getting off track here.)

It was one of those Sony Camcorders that took the compact tapes which allowed us to record for about an hour before we had to copy it off to a normal VHS video cassette. It had a small black-and-white viewfinder which let you see what you recording and how well your subject was in focus.

janeI remember driving in the country one day while Vicki was filming the beautiful scenery. Looking over to the left, I saw a stunning display of what we call here ‘Salvation Jane”–a mass of purple covering field after field in the Adelaide Hills.

“Wow! That is amazing! Look at all that beautiful purple.” I said to the videographer to my left.

“It’s not purple,” she declared quite matter-of-factly. Then, realising what she said, she dropped the camera and we both realised that she had been looking only through the small, monochrome viewfinder. In closing her other eye, she totally couldn’t see the beauty that was purple-covered hills in the summer sun.

How often do we miss the beauty of the world around us, the details of life, the amazing things passing by because we fail to look beyond our small, low-res viewfinder that is created by our environment, our traditions, our worldview, our beliefs?

How often do we close our eyes because we’re straining to catch the perfect shot, or make sure we aren’t missing out on what’s happening in that small window in front of our eye?

Last night as I was driving down the hill towards home, I witnessed the most amazing sunset. The sun was a perfect, huge orange ball and it ever-so-slowly settled into the sea beyond the harbour, I was breathless and speechless at the same time. It was awe inspiring?

My first instinct was to pull out my phone to capture this moment on the little 5″ screen.

But then I remembered the purple fields and how easy it is not to see when you let capturing the moment get in the way of the experience.

So I sat, watching until the fiery ball dropped below the horizon and the bright orange sky turned pink, then purple, then hazy blue, grey, then black.

No, I can’t show you a photo of that sunset. To be honest, you’ve seen enough of these anyway.

If I were to tell you about it, however, you would see my eyes light up and I would get quite emotional as I did my best to share this moment with you.

And that’s something that technology cannot replicate.

And that’s why we need sometimes–often–to ditch the tech and soak in all the wonder we can. Because what life is all about cannot be contained in a memory card, or on a tape.

Stories

Oldthings

I just bought myself a typewriter.

“Seriously? Aren’t you the gadget guy?” you might ask. “Is this replacing your iPad?” (Ha ha. Very funny.)

When I recently visited my parents, I got into a conversation with my mum about her computer. She seems to have never-ending struggles with technology and it so happens I am her resident IT guy.

“I wish I had kept my old typewriter,” she told me, after another troubleshooting session on her seemingly-invalid PC.

I asked her why, with all the features of her new computer, she would want to go back to an old, cumbersome, temperamental beast like a typewriter.

So begun the litany of reasons.

In the end, it wasn’t so much about the computer, nor about its tech-unfriendly operator. It was about what the typewriter represented: a simpler, more straightforward time when no new operating system needed to be learned, no ‘shortcuts’ had to be memorised, and to ‘save’ something you typed it with carbon paper and filed the copy away in the beat-up steel filing cabinet next to your desk.

And the stories!

SctypeHer Smith Corona (similar to the one pictured) had years of history. She had bought it in the States in 1971 and it had travelled with us to Australia. On it she had recorded years of conversations to and from grandparents, aunts and uncles, friends and extended family. No doubt every milestone in the life of our growing family had found its way through the keys to be clunk-clunked on to ‘onionskin’ paper (This translucent paper was apparently lighter in weight than standard bond paper and so she could include many more pages in the letter and still pay standard postage.)

Dad used it to type out his sermons and the occasional letter to his brother. I never asked him why he used a typewriter because it was obvious: nobody–not even himself, I think–could read his handwritten scrawl!

The familiar ‘rat-a-tat-tat’ of the typewriter, the ‘ding’ from the little bell that signified the end of a line and the ‘z-i-i-i-p’ sound the carriage made as you flicked the carriage return lever to start a new line echoed through our house every day, providing a semi-rhythmical soundtrack to our family’s life.

When the Smith Corona’s keys had become so misaligned and its carriage started being cantankerous in its desire to let go of the paper at inopportune times, mum invested in an electric typewriter. Later, that was replaced with a Brother ‘Word Processor,’ and, finally, with a computer and printer.

The old things were thrown out, sold, or given to Goodwill to make way for the new, high-tech machines and the accompanying angst in learning new ways of doing stuff.

I reckon it’s amusing to see how we don’t seem to attach the same value to the new things as we did the old things.

They don’t seem to invoke in us the same feelings of nostalgia, the yearning for the days when life was simpler and when things were manufactured to do one job and to last for years. They don’t seem to tell the same stories we hear recited from the memory of things like manual typewriters, inky ribbons and rows of life stamped out on see-through paper.

Typewriters, books, LP records, mum’s ‘special’ china, keepsakes and even fragrances bring back to us a myriad of tales–myths and legends, epics and anecdotes alike–cascading through our minds about who we were and, ultimately, who we became who we are now.

I think about this as I type on my eBay trophy short, thought-provoking sayings–the kind of which can be found on the Instagram pages of most hipsters these days. I recall with fondness a life that was less complicated (I say this as I figure out–ironically using a YouTube video–how to insert a new $10 ribbon, which I had to source from the UK and get ink all over everything.)

And I think I’ve found the answer why older folks tend to hang on to the stuff from their life a lot longer than the next generation believes to be practical: It’s the stories they hold. And I’m finding, as I get older, my memory needs all the help it can get.